A life in sport – Blitzball, Badminton and Flopping all over the world

Final Fantasy X (2002)

I looked so great during the last Olympics, sat tearing a fart divot through the armchair, wrapping my gob around a chipper and mocking the trampolinists on their poor form, even if I was half-waiting for the judges’ scores before I passed my own judgment, in case I looked silly. I so love being an armchair expert, because let’s face it, what’s the alternative? To be one of them? An Olympiad? Actually, that sounds great, I could add that to my many online bios and lord it over as many people as I could. They don’t have to know that I swam around in circles and fell off the gym horse.

You have to wonder how some of these athletes get started. After all, we’ve probably all done a bit of swimming on holidays, or God forbid a bit of powerwalking. These are sports and activities that normal people pursue. But who on earth goes out kayaking every weekend, while the rest of your schoolfriends play ball and smoke fags?

What child has a full-sized bow and arrow? And it has to be a child, because it’s a bit of a farce if an auld fogey fossil like me picks up a sport on Monday and gets the shout to be on the Olympic team on Thursday afternoon. I’m just trying to imagine what kind of events a guy like me could actually compete in, if not be fully competitive in. After all, who remembers the bronze medallists?

Certainly I wouldn’t opt for the trampoline. Trampolining is a recent addition to the games, and those madmen and madwomen get pretty damn high, but I’m like Tommy Pickles trying to walk upright whenever I get onto one. I tried a wrestling match on a trampoline before and the bounce caught me out so many times, I was taking legitimate clotheslines to the face. Next thing you know, I’m fully horizontal and there’s my teeth bouncing in the air with me, like some dreadful anime particle effect.

Actually, they did sometimes bring out a trampoline in PE class at school, and that’s where my ire begins. I would have brought in my PE gear every week if we could have just played indoor football. I’m rubbish at that as well, but at least everyone can have a laugh doing it, plus it’s easy to hide. And indeed one of the PE teachers, a part-timer who was long past caring, used to just throw us a football, sit himself down and let us have at it. The other PE teacher however wanted to strictly follow a curriculum, which is always a dirty word.

Hence there was a small bit of football, which was great, but then the curriculum got increasingly obscure, and increasingly a pain in the arse. There was the trampoline, which each of us only got two minutes on, and only one at a time – no mid-air Gladiator style battles or anything. After that it was badminton, which is strictly for wetties as I’ve said before. It take a lot of effort to make tennis even poncier, but they managed it.

We tried some volleyball, which I didn’t even know there was a male version – something not quite right about that – but anyway that wasn’t fun either, because the teacher kept barking at us not to kick the ball, as it was a special type of ball, so what use was that?

But probably the worst of all was the high jump, otherwise known as the Fosbury Flop. When the whole discipline is named after some guy who essentially broke the rules in half, then that says it all, doesn’t it? When the teacher brought out that big limbo gate and two of those unrelenting blue gym mats, I was filled with dread. I do not do flips, rolls or tumbles; it’s murder on my posture, not to mention my hair.

I’m terribly uncoordinated (could you guess?) as well, so even though I listened intently to the demonstration and carefully watch the lads who went before me, none of it was sinking in. You’re stood there full of apprehension, waiting for your turn. When my turn finally came, I ran at the rope – I really did – but I seemed to run at it a bit square and head on, jumped too early, or was it too late, got caught on the rope and crumpled in a badly angled heap.

The PE teacher was on me like a light, but I didn’t pay him any mind given that I was trying to deal with my twisted blood. Stupid sport anyway. I just walked off and tried to find a game of curling I could join. I just had to be glad that this teacher, bless his enthusiasm, never took us swimming cos I don’t do none of that either.

Worse still, he might have had us playing Blitzball, which is pretty much all I think about when I think about Final Fantasy X. Hard to believe that this PS2 classic can legally drink now, and that even includes the “land of the free” as well, though maybe there’s a correlation here between America’s drinking age laws and hefty Olympic medal hauls.

Some people love this underwater ball game, which was the latest in a long line of Final Fantasy minigames that were almost worth the price of entry alone. Personally I hate Blitzball and can never wait for it to be over, a perfect microcosm of my PE classes. Ironically enough , I later grew to love the couch to 5K, so why don’t they do a bit of that in school? It’s even in curriculum form already.

I suppose the other memorable part of FFX is that it was the first to include voice-acting, and firsts in franchises with voice acting are never forgotten. They’ve got some big names in, like Tara Strong who voices everybody, and John DiMaggio (Bender Rodriguez to you and I), although this was a game from before the days of correct lip-syncing, so the results onscreen are like some dreadful dubbed film from the 70s.

Yuna’s voice actress made a valiant attempt to match her lines to the lips, but she just ended up sounding asphyxiated instead, which was a shame. And we can’t forget the infamous Tidus laughing scene, which gives me unforgettable flashbacks to all those times in PE where I fell flat on my face, had the basketball come down on my head, or got picked last and shanghaied to the goal.

Forget about all the fluff though, what’s the meat and bones of the game like? We’re talking the story, the music, the graphics, the battle system… well, I’m delighted to say that they’re all great, near to top-notch. This was defo an RPG that casuals could enjoy, like FF7 and perhaps FF8, and it may even have made geeks of millions of people. You’ll never get every single item and unlockable of course. The Final Fantasy games were becoming just a bit too grandiose for that, and I reckon you’d just become incredibly frustrated in the 100% attempt and end up hating the game.

What’s great about Final Fantasy X is that it’s pretty accessible as well. I’m sure you have five or more PS2s in your house like I do, but you can also grab a “HD” remaster for current consoles, which includes FFX-2, the first direct sequel to an individual Final Fantasy game, although the less said about that one the better.

If you’re unsure where to start with the many-storied Final Fantasy series, and you reckon you’d be a bit of a normie going for VII, then give Final Fantasy X a try. This game holds up very well, it isn’t too esoteric, it doesn’t have too head-melting a story, and generally it doesn’t bust your balls or flop your Fosbury’s too much. It’s a jolly nice spot of indoor football then, something we can all enjoy, before the whole series got a bit too clever, a bit too curriculumised, for its own good.

6 January 2023

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